(HealthDay News) — Opioid-related deaths in the cancer population are much rarer than in the general population, according to a research letter published online in JAMA Oncology.

Fumiko Chino, MD, from the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, and colleagues used death certificate data from the National Center for Health Statistics (2006 to 2016) to assess opioids and cancer as underlying causes of deaths.

The researchers found 193,500 deaths due to opioids in the general population and 895 in the cancer population. There was an increase in opioid-related deaths from 5.33 to 8.97 per 100,000 people in the general population and from 0.52 to 0.66 per 100,000 in the cancer population. Demographics of cancer survivors with opioid-related deaths differed from those in the general population, such as higher education (12.7 vs 6.9% with at least a college degree), more women (38.5 vs 29.2%), fewer white individuals (82.3 vs 84.2%), more non-Hispanic individuals (94.5 vs 90.7%), and fewer single patients (24.2 vs 48.1%). Among cancer patients with opioid-related deaths, the underlying primary cancers included lung (22.3%), gastrointestinal (20.9%), head and neck (11.7%), and hematologic (11.3%).

“Death from opioids as the primary cause as documented in death certificates is 10 times less likely to occur in cancer survivors versus the general population,” the authors write. “Prescribing restrictions tied to the opioid epidemic may be reducing access for both long-term survivors and those on active treatment.”

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Chino F, Kamal A, Chino J, et al. Incidence of Opioid-Associated Deaths in Cancer Survivors in the United States, 2006-2016: A Population Study of the Opioid Epidemic [published online May 7, 2020].
JAMA Oncol.
doi: 10.1001/jamaoncol.2020.0799

Vitzthum LK, Riviere P, Murphy JD, et al. Managing Cancer Pain During the Opioid Epidemic—Balancing Caution and Compassion [published online May 7, 2020]. JAMA Oncol. doi: 10.1001/jamaoncol.2020.0779